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Following Tradition

Simon J. Bronner

Publication Year: 1998

Following Tradition is an expansive examination of the history of tradition—"one of the most common as well as most contested terms in English language usage"—in Americans' thinking and discourse about culture. Tradition in use becomes problematic because of "its multiple meanings and its conceptual softness." As a term and a concept, it has been important in the development of all scholarly fields that study American culture. Folklore, history, American studies, anthropology, cultural studies, and others assign different value and meaning to tradition. It is a frequent point of reference in popular discourse concerning everything from politics to lifestyles to sports and entertainment. Politicians and social advocates appeal to it as prima facie evidence of the worth of their causes. Entertainment and other media mass produce it, or at least a facsimile of it. In a society that frequently seeks to reinvent itself, tradition as a cultural anchor to be reverenced or rejected is an essential, if elusive, concept. Simon Bronner's wide net captures the historical, rhetorical, philosophical, and psychological dimensions of tradition. As he notes, he has written a book "about an American tradition—arguing about it." His elucidation of those arguments makes fascinating and thoughtful reading. An essential text for folklorists, Following Tradition will be a valuable reference as well for historians and anthropologists; students of American studies, popular culture, and cultural studies; and anyone interested in the continuing place of tradition in American culture.

Published by: Utah State University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vii-ix


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pp. x-xii

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pp. xiii-xv

...generations from the past into the present? First, my father reminded me before he died of the meaning of the long ethnic-religious tradition to which I belong. My mother strived to be ever modern, to be ''American:' uttered in her noticeable immigrant accent. My sister opened my eyes to the vantages of family and community, and my friends let me be different. Therein lies much of my inspiration...

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Prologue: The Past and Present in Tradition

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pp. 1-8

...through their history have stood up to claim tradition passionately, shape tradition, and break tradition to define their special status in the brave new world. The United States, an upstart nation of myriad communities, was assuredly a place to reevaluate tradition, and view it from various social angles. Americans have hailed their basic beliefs, customs, and myths-in short, their folklore-to epitomize this...

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1. The Problem of Tradition

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pp. 9-72

...on one another, with reference to precedent, for their wisdom, their expression, their identity. The problem may not be immediately evident from the mechanical sounding definition of tradition in most dictionaries as the "handing down" of lore from generation to generation, especially by oral means. In common usage, tradition can refer to an item dependent on this process, such as a story or custom,...

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2. Folklore and Ideology during the Gilded Age

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pp. 73-140

...Benjamin Andrews, President of Brown University, self-assuredly declared in his massive history of post -Reconstruction America that "few quarter-centuries in the world's life bristle with salient events as does that following the year 1870" (Andrews 1896, vii). As speculation turned to the order of the new century, he and many other intellectuals offered justification for the "progress of civilization in the...

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3. The English Connection,from Cultural Survivals to Cultural Studies

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pp. 141-183

...to Great Britain, one would expect more communion of folklore studies between the domains. This is not to say that great achievements have not been made. Receiving persistent use in the twentieth century are Francis James Child's catalogue of British ballads, Cecil Sharp's harvest of British folk songs in the southern Appalachians of the United States, Ernest Baughman's type and motif index of...

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4. The Americanization of the Brothers Grimm

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pp. 184-236

...forums, reference is probably being made to the remarkable legacy of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (1785-1863, 1786-1859, respectively), known popularly as the Brothers Grimm. The work of the Grimms has gone through a complicated history of interpretation and application. Since the Grimms made a giant splash with their folklore collections in the nineteenth century, their successors have...

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5. Martha Warren Beckwith and the Rise of Academic Authority

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pp. 237-265

...AMERICA'S traditions, then the folklorist label needed professional recognition in a society that increasingly valued institutional authority. While folklore as a field commenting on American culture had made substantial headway in museums and some notable Ivy League universities, its supporters did not necessarily identify themselves as folklorists. Franz Boas at Columbia, for many years editor of the...

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6. Alfred Shoemaker and the Discovery of American Folklife

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pp. 266-312

...basis of tradition, America took on the look of a nation of composite groups. Folklife averred America's pluralism, its ethnic-regional diversity, and Pennsylvania became its model. Folklife was a rarely used term in America before Pennsylvania's Alfred Shoemaker raised it most forcefully as an alternative to folklore after World War II. By 1972, Richard Dorson observed that folklife "has vied...

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7. Henry W. Shoemaker and the Fable of Public Folklore

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pp. 313-348

...Receiving front-page attention from Pennsylvania newspapers, Henry Shoemaker (1880-1958) officially began his tenure as America's first state folklorist in March 1948 and served until February 1956. Despite leaving behind a documentary record of his accomplishment, his pathbreaking role for public folklore has gone mostly unrecognized. At least four chronicles of public folklore activities...

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8. Richard Dorson and the Great Debates

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pp. 349-412

...folklore what Kinsey did for sex (Brunvand 1982, 347). It is an image of a man putting his subject forward before the public seriously, and controversially, and placing it on scholarly footing from the 1950S through the 1980s. The similarity between the two luminaries went beyond the fact that both Dorson and Kinsey were associated with institutes at Indiana University, and both had a cultural...

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9. Displaying American Tradition in Folk Arts

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pp. 413-474

...festival in America. Blockbuster folk art shows such as American Folk Art: The Art of the Common Man at the Museum of Modern Art in 1932 and The Flowering of American Folk Art at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1974 inspired countless collections, books, and commentaries harping on the essential national spirit of America found in its folk art. They also had their detractors who wanted...

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Epilogue: The Future of Tradition

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pp. 475-482

...from them. This book began as I contemplated the youth of America's national relics against the ancient ruins of England and I heard countless times how the United States and England were two nations divided by a common language. It ended in Japan where I heard fewer hints of commonality with the United States. Pundits on both sides of the Pacific presented Japan to be essentially different from...

Bibliographic Essay

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pp. 483-502


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pp. 503-517


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pp. 5518-589


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pp. 590-599

E-ISBN-13: 9780874213645
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874216417

Publication Year: 1998